Voice from the Commonwealth
Commentary, World Views and Occasional Rants from a small 'l' libertarian in Massachussetts

"If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest for freedom, go home and leave us in peace. We seek not your council nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the hand that feeds you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen." - Samuel Adams

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Internet cafes are becoming popular in liberated Baghdad.

Saddam Hussein's regime had banned free e-mail and live chat. Free e-mail would have dissuaded people from signing up for subscriptions to Iraqi Internet service providers, and live chat was tough to monitor and halt.

Now Iraqis are free to use the Internet as they like. During recent visits to the Internet centers, customers mainly were trying to contact relatives or price appliances, electronics and cars. Internet center workers said many people browsed the Web to look for jobs or for goods to buy and import into Iraq.

"This is a new sense of freedom for us. We are not in a very secure society yet, but at least we can say whatever we like," said Firas Behnam, 27, a worker at the former State Company for Internet Services center in the neighborhood of Adil.

Under Saddam, Iraqis could look at foreign news sites such as the BBC and CNN at least part of the time. "Sometimes it said access denied, sometimes not," Behnam said. "It depended on the news of the day, and how aggressive it was."

"Some Web sites are still closed, but if you let us know, we will reopen them," said Yaser Hassan, 30, the manager of the Adil center. "The users here want everything fast. They complain loudly when they see `access denied,' even though they did not complain for 30 years."

Before the war, Behnam worked at the state Internet center in the al Rasheed Hotel, helping customers use e-mail. "I had to organize this and of course read the messages. Sometimes, if there was anything interesting, we had to tell the authorities. Most of the al Rasheed Hotel guests were reporters, and Iraqi intelligence agents came to us to ask what are they sending."

And apparently they are popular not just for Iraqis.

Customers at private Internet cafes in well-to-do neighborhoods pay about $5 for an hour for high-speed access. At the center in Adil, Iraqis and U.S. soldiers line up to access e-mail for 200 dinars an hour, about $1.33.

< email | 6/19/2003 03:55:00 PM | link

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